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Volunteers begin sifting through ashes of Lytton, B.C. fire for family heirlooms

Click to play video: 'Team Rubicon helping rebuild lives amid Lytton fire devastation' Team Rubicon helping rebuild lives amid Lytton fire devastation
The volunteer-driven team of military veterans and first responders who helped Fort McMurray recover from a 2016 wildfire disaster is now headed to Lytton, B.C. to aid the fire-ravaged village in its efforts to rebuild. Kristen Robinson reports – Aug 29, 2021

A volunteer group of Canadian military veterans and civilians has begun the grueling task of sifting through the wreckage of Lytton, B.C., homes in search residents’ heirlooms.

Team Rubicon Canada was formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, where they helped hundreds of families recover irreplaceable items that survived the flames.

Read more: B.C. wildfire map 2021: Location and size of the fires burning around the province

Team members arrived in Lytton in June, where they helped staff the village’s emergency operations centre.

On Tuesday, they began deploying to fire-ravaged homes on the Lytton First Nation, explained Team Rubicon Leader Ric Henderson.

“We’ve got basically a large screen. So it’s placing that debris with a shovel on the screen, and it’s almost like panning for gold, if you would, and shaking that screen and getting the material through to see if we can find things for people,” he said.

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“We’ve been doing very well, recovering some very important things for some people.”

Click to play video: 'Lytton Mayor on his community’s spirit and plans to rebuild the village' Lytton Mayor on his community’s spirit and plans to rebuild the village
Lytton Mayor on his community’s spirit and plans to rebuild the village – Jul 16, 2021

Due to toxic hazards from the fire, members need to don hazmat suits and respirators and go through a decontamination process at the end of their shifts.

Read more: Volunteer-led team of veterans who helped Fort McMurray recover from fire headed to Lytton

Henderson said the 10-member crew had already processed the rubble of six homes and had recovered important items, including an urn with a loved one’s remains and a ring that had been passed down by an evacuated resident’s mother.

“That was something they didn’t think they’d ever see again, so that was really overwhelming both for our team and for the people we’re finding these things for,” he said.

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“It’s very heartwarming to see the people’s response when you find some of these things,” he said, adding that the recoveries can help some people begin to heal from the trauma of the fire.

Twenty-five families in the First Nation have signed up to have their properties sifted, Henderson said.

Crews plan to tackle at least 31 properties in the Village of Lytton itself, but don’t yet have clearance to access the community because of toxic and other safety hazards.

Multiple investigations into the cause of the fire, which swept through the community on June 30, remain underway.

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